How Putin Wins a War Using Social Media, Kompromat and Low-Information Voters
Thinking about how our world has access to the launch of your new book through Facebook and Twitter sounds exciting. Sharing cute photos with hundreds of Facebook “friends” is also fun. Yet, our obsession with social media platforms has taken a dark, ugly turn for Americans and others around the planet.
Considering how Russian trolls dupe millions through propaganda that once could only reach those within the Russian state is less than exciting. It is increasingly dangerous. Knowing Russian dictator, President Vladimir Putin and Russia use our access to social media to alter opinions and elections and continue to do so without constraint is downright terrifying.
Russia no longer needs Cold War spies although they still exist. Putin has the Internet, combined with the ignorance and gullibility of low-information American voters who are mesmerized by their technology. Even as Putin has revolutionized information warfare to cause chaos, divide, and conquer an enemy state, we continue inviting Putin’s propaganda army right into the intimacy of our homes. Putin's aim is nothing less than Russian domination.
With a cowardly and greedy American Republican Congress, appearing to have no loyalty higher than keeping their power, and a Russian asset in the American “President,” Putin could not have asked for a better set of conditions to achieve his aims. An indifferent or complacent American public coupled with those Americans who get their “news” from tainted sources, such as the Fox network and social media, the recipe is in place for the fairly rapid destruction of American ideals and, eventually, fracturing of our Democratic Republic.
Why aren’t more Americans deeply worried about these circumstances? The answer may be found in just how good Russian propaganda is in creating disinformation that becomes accepted as fact by a fairly broad spectrum of the American electorate. When an election is close, Putin has the tools and determination to alter it.
Since 1999, Putin has consolidated his power in Russia, amassing one of the largest fortunes in the world, money he has used to bribe and scheme his way into perpetual rule in his own state, in addition to reaching out across the globe. He has had his foes and journalists assassinated routinely with impunity. Absolute power without constraint is, indeed, terrifying. Putin has had contracts put out on countless numbers of civilians, politicians, and journalists without consequence. Russia has been named one of the most dangerous states in the world for a journalist.
But, more recently, Putin has found that he does not have to engage in outright killing to destroy and take over his enemies. Forbes has named Vladimir Putin the most powerful man in the world in successive years. Bizarrely, unless one reflects on Trump as a Russian asset, "President" Trump brushed off assassinations and disappearances of political rivals and journalists under Putin's regime by stating to Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on and a lot of stupidity and that’s the way it is.” That is just the way it is.
What is Putin's hold over Trump? Over Mitch McConnell? Over Lindsey Graham? Over Devin Nunes? Among many others.
Putin may simply have his foes invited to the Russian state. A seemingly harmless trek across the world to be wined and dined turns into a situation in which Putin's guests have become compromised. Before joining Boris Yeltsin's administration and taking over, Putin was KGB for 16 years. No one knows how to use a woman in a hotel room of a visiting dignitary better than Putin. It was Putin himself who burned the KGB files in East Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. The recent parade of American Republican Congressman, the Trump family, and American businessmen to Russia is no benign state of affairs. Part of the Putin playbook is creating situations or kompromat from which there is no turning back.
In an article in The Atlantic, David Frum warned in early 2019, “In a recent talk in Washington, the historian Timothy Snyder observed that Russia’s annual budget for cyberwarfare is less than the price of a single American F-35 jet. Snyder challenged his audience to consider: ‘Which weapon has done more to shape world events?”’ We already know the answer.